No shark attack for five years, here’s how Reunion Island kept away the “jaws” – Ouest-France evening edition

No shark attack for five years, here’s how Reunion Island kept away the “jaws” – Ouest-France evening edition
No shark attack for five years, here’s how Reunion Island kept away the “jaws” – Ouest-France evening edition

By the evening edition, with Agence France-Presse.

Between 2011 and 2019, eleven people were killed by sharks on Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean. But for five years, no attacks have been recorded. The reason: a complex risk reduction strategy.

On the Reunion Surf League star, Norbert Sénescat sends his divers into the water for a quick test: eight meters of visibility, the area is validated. A message on social networks and, from 9 a.m., green flag raised, surfers will flock.

Underwater, divers will tirelessly survey this surf spot in Trois-Bassins, in the west of the island, until 3 p.m., on the lookout for the slightest bull shark or tiger shark, the two species origin of attacks against humans.

At the same time, two boats patrol the surface and cameras are submerged to observe the depths. On land and at sea, a duo of team leaders constantly scan the images, ready to sound the alarm if a shark is seen.

Set up around ten years ago, initially on an artisanal basis, this system called “reinforced shark lookouts”, which now operates seven days a week, has proven itself. Since May 9, 2019, no attacks have been recorded in Reunion. The end of a dark series: between 2011 and this date, thirty attacks, including eleven fatal, had followed one another. “The results are only positive. When we see the number of people who return to the water, the demonstrations, the associations which bring the children back…”, smiles Norbert Sénescat, himself a local snow sports figure.

Read also: Here are the countries in the world where sharks most attack swimmers and surfers

Controversial preventive fishing

Michael Hoarau, operations director of the Shark Safety Center (CSR), greets “the longest period without an attack in Reunion since the start of the census” interactions with sharks in the 1970s.

The heart of this system is a preventive fishing program that is extremely divisive between those who would like more shark harvesting and those who denounce an ecological scandal.

To defuse the debate, the CSR praises a homemade tool called “Pavac”, equipped with bait “technological” which alert fishermen in the event of a catch. They then have 90 minutes to get there, accompanied by scientists who will ensure that the catch is released correctly if it is not a tiger or bulldog shark.

The CSR announces a survival rate of catches ” accessories “ of more than 82%, when preventive fishing in Australia or South Africa does not reach 30% survival. “We have fished 59 bull sharks from 2018 to the present: this is not the slaughter of which we are accused”, assures Michael Hoarau.

“There is a lot of bycatch, including critically endangered species,” responds Bernard Bonnet, from the Vie Océane association, estimating that released animals, even alive “are not unscathed”.

Read also: Two great white sharks break record, travel more than 6,400 kilometers together

Overfull

Far from these debates, surfing is back in vogue in Reunion. The number of schools has increased over the last two years and economic activity is restarting. On Trois-Bassins beach, Marin Meier, manager of a school launched in 2022, introduces a few adults, away from the crowd.

“We have people who were very afraid but who are coming back because we have put a whole system in place,” greets the man from the island. But the growth is such that many surfers and teachers feel cramped.

Because a 2013 prefectural decree prohibits swimming and “activities driven by the force of waves” (surfing and bodyboarding) outside the lagoon or specially designed areas, i.e. those monitored by “shark lookouts”.

Read also: Are we likely to see more sharks near the French coast as the ocean warms?

Thierry Martineau, the president of the Réunion Surf League, says he fears injuries due to overcrowding at surf spots more than from sharks.

His goal : “Having two spots open simultaneously to be able to dilute this number of people. » This would necessarily involve a reduction in the cumbersome surveillance system which employs around ten employees per zone.

But there is no question of forgetting the dramas: “We know that the shark risk will always be present in Reunion Island,” he admits. At the beginning of May, a bull shark ” aggressive “ was seen by a diver off the coast of Saint-Leu, a spot known worldwide for its waves.

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